Retired to a Densely Populated Urban Area?
Consider Indoor Urban Farming as a New Career
If you are a retiree in a densely populated northern city, perhaps you should consider becoming an indoor urban farmer – either in your own home or, if you have bigger aspirations, from a warehouse.
Farmers have long known that indoor hydroponic gardens grown without soil or sunlight produce yields 10-30 times greater than traditional soil-based gardens. But traditionally, hydroponic gardens needed to lay flat, thus consuming vast amounts of space and electricity to power the grow lights.
Omega Gardens, a Vancouver BC company, has developed a vertical/horizontal hydroponic system that rotates plants around a grow light and thus requires about 1/100 of the footprint of a traditional flat soil garden (depending how high you stack the systems - think 10 story building) and about 1/6 the electrical power (per square foot surface growing area) of a traditional hydroponic farm or green house. Hydroponically grown plants grow about 4-5 times faster than traditionally grown plants – (with the proper enclosure, and procedures, think Intel commercials, all pest issues are minimized or eliminated -) and of course are not plagued with plagues, insects and varmints – so yields are significantly greater than soil gardeners expect, says Inventor Ted Marchildon. In short, they live in a perfect environment year round.
“It’s high noon all day,” said Marchildon in a talk with The Unruly Mob.
OmegaGarden has been in operation since 1998 and traditionally these systems have been used by hobbyists. But as the eat-local movement has grown, more and more people are using them to create urban garden businesses, says Marchildon. They are (being eyed by northern communities as greenhouses are not an option when the power consumption is calculated for places that have 6 months of darkness) in notable demand in communities so far north that vegetables and herbs must be trucked in year round.
For homeowners or apartment dwellers, OmegaGardens’s most popular system, the VolksGarden, requires 2.5 ft X 4 ft of space and can be stacked atop one another as your business grows. This means that you could convert a bedroom or garage into a hydroponic farm and produce vegetables, herbs, flowers or other plants year round to sell at Farmers Markets, Restaurants or even to neighbors. Omega has also sold a number of systems in New York City.
Each VolksGarden grows about 80 plants. A strong grower with a single VolksGarden can probably harvest about 3- 5 pounds of basil each week. Inasmuch as organic basil sells for about $36 a pound in the supermarket, it’s likely that your fresh produce can sell for at least that. Which would mean that you could gross $464 to $774 a month – on a business that cost you all in about $3000 to start.
And if you bought six systems …
For seniors who want to build larger businesses, Marchildon is launching a new division that will support large climate control operations with 22-foot tall systems called Carousels growing product for commercial growers and family owned Volksgardens producing vegetables, herbs or flowers for family consumption or to be sold at farmers markets, restaurants. The new division is called YouGrew.com (Think 'You-Brew' like services that help you with beer and wine making)
Among the plants successfully grown in these systems are: Herbs
Basil, Savory, Mint, Italian Parsley, Feverfew, Oregano, Majoram, TymeLettuce
Romaine, Green Leaf, Rocket, Red Leaf, Pak Choy, Red Butterhead, Swiss Chard, Loose Leaf , Fruit bearing plants
Peppers, Strawberries, Eggplants, TomatoesFlowers
Marigolds, Impatients, Nasturtium, Pansies
Is there a market for these crops? Go to your organic supermarket or Farmers Market and see for yourself. That should be the first stop on your due diligence.
To be clear, not everyone can be a strong grower. “There’s a thing with farming. You gotta make the plants happy,” said Marchildon. (It's about how well you replace Mother Nature. Indoor plant growing is one of the paths to 'inner enlightenment' ;)
While the day-to-day time commitment to operating a small indoor urban farm is relatively low – possibly an hour a day -- there is a lot of focused work in the early stage of your business as you learn how to grow your crops and find ways to sell them – to restaurants, farmers markets, CSAs. Selling and delivering can also be time consuming, depending on what model you chose to use. And there are additional expenses such as electricity, plant nutrients, Farmers Market fees, wholesale discounts and possibly transportation that will certainly limit early profitability.
But if you have got a green thumb and a love for city life, rotating hydroponic gardening could be an interesting way to supplement retirement income and live an active, engaged life.